November 10, 2009

Panelists discuss Iranian revolutions, past and present

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Experts on the Iranian Left marked the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and its impact on present-day Iran at a panel discussion Thursday at I-House. The panel, hosted by the Platypus Society, was structured around a single question: Was the establishment of the Islamic Republic a tragedy for the Left?

The panel focused on the role of progressives in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, from 1977 to the coup itself in 1979. According to Kaveh Ehsani, a professor of international studies at DePaul University, “This was one of the largest political events of the 20th century.”

Progressives during the Islamic Revolution were anti-imperialist, leading them to question Western ideas such as free press and women’s rights. Panelists said contemporary progressives in Iran should be careful not to make the same mistake of being too dogmatic and ideological.

In June, new progressives protested election results that kept conservative Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in office because they suspected the election had been rigged. The Green Movement, as it became known, was the first widespread outpouring of Western sentiment in Iran since 1979.

Journalist Danny Postel, a strong supporter of the Green Movement, explained that mistakes from the Left caused the failures of the Islamic Revolution, deriding the Iranian government’s actions against a free press.

The panelists agreed that change was necessary in Iran, but disagreed on what the goals of the revolution should be. Postel said he was disappointed by fellow panelist Chris Cutone, the founding editor of left-leaning Platypus Review, professor at the Art Institute, and lecturer at the U of C, who criticized the Green Movement’s recent activities. Cutone responded to Postel’s accusation by sympathizing with Iranian protesters, but also pointed out that the Green Movement carries ideological problems.

While examining past failed revolutions, panelists remained hopeful for change in Iran. “We are all involved in a political struggle that we may lose,” Ehsani said. However, Ehsani cited the maturity of contemporary revolutionaries and expressed optimism for Iran’s future. Though the Green Movement represents another attempt at change in a long history of political turmoil, the panelists said it could prove to be a necessary change in Iran. “We are living, again, through a historic moment,” Postel said.